Time: 4 hours 45 minutesGrading: T1
Height gain: 460 metres
Height loss: 470 metres
Vevey – St. Saphorin – Rivaz – Epesses – Cully – Lutry - Lausanne
Stretching out along a sunny, south-facing hillside between Montreux and Lausanne, the Lavaux vineyards have been classified as a UNESCO world heritage site since 2007. My Alpine Panorama Trail guidebook modestly describes them as “the world’s most beautiful vineyards”. Whether or not this is strictly true is open to discussion, but they would certainly be up there in any world vineyard beauty contest. And thankfully, after several rather unsatisfactory stages, this stroll (to use the word hike would be a big exaggeration) is absolutely superb, despite the constantly hard surfaces underfoot.
After another unseasonably warm and sunny week, the passage from September to October seems to have sparked a change in the weather. On Saturday 1st, a hot and sunny morning gradually slides into a rainy late afternoon and evening, with temperatures dropping fast. Sunday dawns grey and cool, but the forecast assures me that in the Lake Geneva area at least, the weather will improve as the day progresses, and that the afternoon should be sunny if not particularly warm. I allow myself a couple of extra hours in bed compared to the previous weekend – no point in setting out too early if the good weather is only coming later – and consequently do not get to Vevey to pick up the trail until 11:30.
I don’t know if Vevey has an attractive old town hidden away somewhere, but everything I have seen of the town is unremittingly ugly. I escape from it as quickly as possible, climbing up a steep, sunken lane which soon brings me to the more attractive village of Corseaux. Here I see the first signs of what will be the day’s main theme: several of the village’s old stone houses are decorated with wine-related motifs, and I see my first vines as soon as I leave the village behind.
|This is what today's walk is all about...|
|Vines above St. Saphorin|
Most of today’s walk follows the narrow, concrete-surfaced roads that run through the vineyards, generally keeping to a fairly constant altitude. Gradually I climb up to the modest altitude of 500 metres: it’s the day’s highest point, which must make this the least mountainous stage so far on the Alpine Panorama Trail… although I suspect that the record will be beaten before I reach Geneva. Now I drop down steeply to the ancient and very pretty village of St. Saphorin, its stone church tower set above the lake giving the place an almost Mediterranean feel. Just above the village I sit on a bench to eat my sandwiches, looking south-eastwards beyond the end of the lake towards the distant Valais. Opposite me, the mountains on the southern bank of the lake – Grammont, Dent d’Oche and Cornettes de Bise – are still hidden under a layer of very black cloud.
|Shafts of sunlight over Lake Geneva|
I continue westwards across the steep hillside towards Rivaz, another pretty village in whose centre every house seems to be devoted to the wine industry. It’s Sunday and the cellars are all closed, but this would be a lovely route to do on another day as a wine-tasting walk… with plenty of scope for ending the day in a pleasant fuzz of drunkenness, such is the number of places offering dégustation et vente.
Leaving Rivaz, I leave the wine of St. Saphorin behind and enter the Dézaley vineyards, among the most renowned of this wine-growing area. The hillside is steeper than ever here; the vines plunge down in a series of steep terraces, on some of which there is only room for two or three rows of plants. Tiny cogwheel railways snake up the steep slopes, just big enough to carry a few crates of grapes and the tools necessary to tend the vines. Up above on the hillside, the name of the vineyard has been spelled out in big while letters, just like in Hollywood… except that in Hollywood the letters do not say DEZALEY.
|The steep terraces of the Dézaley vineyards|
As I approach the next village of Epesses, the landscape begins to change. The slope of the hillside becomes somewhat less steep and, ahead of me, the lake widens out. The sky is clearing rapidly and everything suddenly looks very green as the sun bathes the villages and towns to the west. Behind me the view has changed as well, with the Rhône valley no longer visible, hidden by a shoulder of the mountains on the far side of the lake. Epesses is larger than the other villages through which I have walked, and there are quite a lot of tourists here, looking in the windows of the mostly closed wine cellars. One place has a sign saying that it is open on Sundays: it would be a nice idea to get a couple of bottles of local wine, I say to myself. But on closer investigation, it turns out that the cellar is only open from 17:00 to 21:00, hardly practical for catching the passing Sunday afternoon trade!
|Looking westwards... still a long way to Geneva!|
The next hour’s walking is less interesting. The path drops down to a lower level, where it is much closer to the main road and the railway line, and to the noise that these generate. I skirt round the outskirts of Cully, through an increasingly built-up environment: this is the start of Lausanne’s suburbs. Villette is the last of the little stone-built wine villages that the route runs through: at the far end of the village, yellow footpath signposts direct me downhill and onto the main lakeside road. It looks like it is going to be another uninspiring end to the day’s walk, and I wonder why the route did not stay higher up, continuing through the vineyards as far as Lutry. But after a few hundred metres’ road walking, I discover the reason, as a well-hidden footpath branches off to the left between two houses (the turning would be very easy to miss) and heads right down to the water’s edge.
|Gradually the weather clears|
And so, for its last hour or so, my vineyard stroll becomes a lakeside stroll. A narrow path picks its way round the back of big houses, skirts round little private docks, sometimes sneaking underneath footbridges that link expensive-looking properties to private lakeside gardens. There is a stiff breeze blowing from the west, and some quite sizeable waves have formed on the lake: on two or three occasions, I am very close to getting a free shower as spray shoots up. In places, there are little beaches where kite-surfers are making the most of the wind. I like the fact that this path is allowed to exist at all: along so much of Lake Geneva, the shore is inaccessible, reachable only by those with enough millions in the bank to own a lakeside property.
The path eventually brings me to the village-suburb of Lutry, with its busy marina, restaurants and lakeside park. Despite the wind and despite the fact that it is October, there are people swimming in the lake here, and others indulging in summer activities such as beach volleyball and consuming large ice-creams… maybe this is the last day of the season when such things will be possible, and everyone is making the most of the opportunity. The view south-westwards down the lake from here is stunning, the sky is a wonderfully wild mixture of blue sky over the Swiss bank of the lake and still-menacing clouds on the French side.
|The lake seen from Lutry|
Beyond Lutry, the path continues along the shore but becomes much more crowded with people out for Sunday afternoon walks. As I stop to take a photo, a man catches me up and insists on making conversation. He tells me that I should make the most of the scenery because in a few years, the shore of the lake will be built up like Hong Kong. His rant goes on and on: I try walking very fast, then very slow, but he proves impossible to shake off. Eventually I tell him: “I’m stopping now to take some pictures, goodbye”, which fortunately works. Soon afterwards I reach Lausanne’s lakeside district of Ouchy with its tree-lined quays, its castle and its Olympic museum. Five hours of walking on hard surfaces have left me with rather sore feet, but it has been a thoroughly enjoyable day.
|Between Lutry and Lausanne, looking back eastwards|
|Looking west from Lausanne-Ouchy|